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Bankroll Management


Hey all-

Long time casual player (home games, occasional Vegas trip) but I've been studying hard and playing more and more and I'd like to take a few steps toward taking this game more seriously. When you started your bankroll, how did you come up with that number? How much of it was used for each session? How'd you track it? What worked and what didn't? I'm sure this will open to a larger discussion but wanted to get it started. Appreciate any feedback!




  • kaspal

    I personally play with at least 30 buy-in for the level. It depends to the specialty you want to play. Every one has a major or minor variance to take count of.

  • pgearan

    Basically agree with kaspal, if you have between 25 and 40 buy-ins that's a number that allows you to ride out the variance pretty well. I mostly play tournaments currently and it's certainly very easy to go 8 to 10 tournaments without a cash, but very unlikely over 25-30 tournaments that I'll not get a few large cashes that offset much of those bad runs.

  • think
    edited October 2017

    Blackjack advantage play is really about a combination of strategy and bankroll management. If you flip through a blackjack book, they all have sections on bankroll. That's if you find that stuff interesting.

    In blackjack (and stock investing), there is a principle called the Kelly Criterion -- it defines mathematically how to "bet" (on a hand, stock, or whatever) to gain the greatest "wealth utility" while controlling ROR (risk of ruin). The really short version is "bet your edge." So, let's say you're on a sports analysis team, and they say you have a 1.5% edge on the baseball game -- then, if your team had a 100k bankroll, the "right" bet could be 1.5k. This is oversimplified, of course, but it gives you an idea. Bet more, and the long-term ROR increases dramatically. Bet less, and you are giving up long-haul advantage.

    Poker is a "variance ride," but it's obviously a little different. In blackjack, your strategy is mathematically defined. But in poker, how are you going to feel if you are down to your last 2 or 3 buy-ins? Will that affect your play?

    Also, there is the concept of "replenishable bank," which allows for you to calculate a trip bankroll which is a much lower amount than a full "playing" bankroll. Basically, let's say a $15k bankroll would give you a decent ROR in a given game (by the way, this is for a "cheap" blackjack game, and it is VERY likely that you would go down 1/3 to 2/3, even with an advantage). $15k is an amount which takes into account the range of variance vs. your advantage -- the "random walk" vs. the "upward drift." $10-15k might still have something like ~5% ROR, i.e.: 1 in 20 will lose it all, even playing perfectly and at an advantage.

    Here's the thing: if you have a separate bankroll for advantage gambling (the "401-G!"), with no money moving in/out other than wins/losses, then that's the "bankroll," and the above gives you an idea of what an optimal strategy looks like. But if, for instance, you have a regular income and can "bottom out" on a small bankroll without it meaning "ruin," then it's actually about ROR vs. the time frame of your trip (in playing hours). So, instead of a 10k-15k bank, a blackjack player might bring $2k for a weekend (ballpark). If the risk (SD) and bet sizing are weighed, one can come up with a number that still gives you maximum wealth utility at a given ROR. And if you bottom out, you just quit playing until the next trip. If you were working with 5% ROR, you'd average bottoming out 1 in 20 trips, and you'd have, shall we say, a severely depleted stack, much more often than that. Did I mention that advantage gambling can be stressful?

    So the reason I bring this up is that...well, Arnold Snyder (who wrote a lot on blackjack) says in Poker Tournament Formula that blackjack books discuss bankroll management, but poker books tell you to hit up your friends for money when you bust out (that's almost his exact words!).

    BACK TO POKER: I have seen the 30-40 buy-in amount thrown around. I am no authority on this, by any means. But if you are bringing it up in terms of starting a bankroll, I would assume that you're starting at the lowest available level -- let's say $1-2 live (you mentioned Vegas), with a $200+ buy-in. So, if you have a $6k "poker only" bankroll, maybe you feel pretty comfortable about that. But if you have some kind of income and can bring a replenishable amount to each session, then it becomes more about "at what dollar amount does this session have a __% ROR (or whatever)" vs. "at what dollar amount does my ENTIRE CAREER have a __% ROR." And, essentially, the only time you're losing "wealth utility" is when you bottom out (temporarily) and quit playing when you otherwise would have been playing at +EV. Note that you would never be able to optimize wealth utility anyway, because it's not as if you can say, "can we make the blinds $0.73-1.46 -- I am betting by the Kelly formula!" This is in contrast to blackjack, sports betting, investing, etc. in which you can dictate the amount you are willing to risk on a given gamble (independently from strategic considerations).

    But, given the factors involved (poker psychology and opponent selection -- are you losing because of a leak/tell or tilt that is having a disproportionate effect on this session?), if you lose your "session roll," maybe that's a good time to quit for the moment, anyway.


    I have to point out that precise notions of +EV break down in poker, anyway. Maybe there could be a decent EV estimation if you played an entire "season" at the same table, against the same opponents -- then you'd be able to do better, relevant estimations (like with baseball stats). Other than that, you might be at negative or very marginal +EV (against the rake and the overall combination of opponents you end up against), and not even know it for months, depending on variance. One of the downers of the "poker thing" for me is: if I had a passion for chess (or competitive athletics, or Scrabble), I could probably find ways to mix it up with good to great opponents and find a "ceiling" for my ability without having to risk a great deal of money. I would absolutely pay a flat fee of, say, $100 or so to play serious poker for a few hours against folks who are significantly better than me, because of the improvements I feel it would jump-start. But I can't risk thousands just to get "cleaned out" and learn a few lessons. I've posted that before, and I think APT, especially with the Beat The Pro videos, at least helps to fill that gap.


    The only caveat here with "replenishable bank" is that you would have to be able to play your optimal strategy even on your last buy-in of the session (which, here, means down to your last "gambling" dollar), all without showing fear/tells/undue hesitation. On top of that, the folks most likely to NOT be affected might have a "degenerate gambling" side. It's been said that a number of top pros have "a little degen in them" (maybe someone can corroborate/deny this, but the life stories of quite a few go, "won a lot at poker, blew a lot at the craps table, took years to figure out that maybe I should stick to poker!").

    So it's a continuum: person who plays impossibly tight when way down (passing up +EV risky moves) <--> degen who, very likely, just craves the action and will always blow through every dollar, win or lose (with most people falling somewhere on the risk-averse side). From which archetype would a dominant player be more likely to arise -- fearless degen who develops self-control, or risk-averse individual (the other 90-95%) who learns to control/rationalize fear? I think this is a case of, "the fire that heats also burns." Or, as they say in Star Wars, "you must never hesitate young Jedi." That's easier said than done (for "normal" people) when a week's grocery money is going into that 3-bet!

    -- I apologize for the length of the post. If there are holes in this strategy, please (someone) point them out -- I haven't read it described this way, but I would imagine it applies. I hope this helps.

  • monkeysystem

    The replenishable bankroll concept is for weekend warriors like myself. You don't need 30 buy ins to get you started. You need to have a commitment to investing a part of the payday from your day job into your gaming account, and a plan for bringing x number of buy ins to your first and subsequent sessions. Then start playing and investing simultaneously until you build your gaming account up to the level you want.

    For poker you could start with as little as as one or two buy ins. If you bust out in your first session, invest in your gaming bankroll until you get to that level again and then go play. As long as you're not losing faster than you can invest from your day job, you will eventually get enough traction to build your bankroll up to 30 buy ins.

    For example, say you start out playing a 1-3 NLHE cash game with a $300 max buy in. You could start with, say, $600. If you invest $100 a week from your day job it will take you six weeks to build that starting bankroll. If you bust out in your first session, save up another $600 over a six-week period and try again.

    If you start with $2000 seed money from selling the old boat you don't use any more, you probably will never bust out before you build up to the $9000 bankroll you want, unless you really spew money at the tables. If you play break-even poker it will take about 70 weeks to build it from your paydays. If you're winning, you'll get there faster. If you're losing, you'll get there slower.

    Variety is the spice of life. You can use your bankroll to play other games in which you have a theoretical advantage. Blackjack card counting and full pay video poker with good promotions are two of these. Just be sure to play these within limits that require the same bankroll as your poker games.

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